Byzantine erotica and Hal’s dad
From the “Is IJ among the whitest novels ever?” thread:
By genealogy Hal is one-eighth Pima Indian (one-quarter ethnic Arab if his father is a Near Eastern medical attache) so it’s really just the whites of the eyes.
If his father is a Near Eastern Medical Attache?
Well, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence so far.
Hal gets described as the only ethnic appearing extant Incandenza (indicating that his parentage must be closer to an ethnic source than his siblings’) with black hair, radiantly dark, unburnable, sleek, moist, tea-colored skin, and dark eyes, characteristics not shared with Orin, whose legitimate birth nine years earlier had been primarily a Green Card maneuver for Avril.
The half-Canadian Near Eastern medical attache would have begun his 5-year otolaryngology residency at Brandeis while Avril was still teaching there, right about nine months before Hal was born, and we hear both that she was cavorting with no less than thirty Near Eastern medical attaches and fucking just about everything with a Canadian pulse.
Seven years’ itch after Orin, and with Jim becoming more self-absorbed and dissatisfied, her second pregnancy is also suspect. Kept hidden until premature delivery, Mario is apparently the result of an affair with fellow Canadian Charles Tavis.
Not to mention Hal’s affinity for Byzantine erotica, which also hangs on the medical attache’s wall, is something far too obscure to be just coincidental.
Whoa! 3rd reading and I had not considered this! Nice work!
At one point Avril is described as wearing a “levantine” jacket. Though I think “Levant” was around Ottoman empire time, and not Byzantine, though the Ottoman emp. follows the Byzantine emp., so probably not too far off to read into this…?
I remember something else closer to the end of the novel. Hal says his interest in Byzantine erotica had grown out of a reference in the O.E.D … But hey this only points to The Moms and parties with her O.E.D friends!
Awesome analysis – I’ve always wondered why Hal and the attache both specifically and pointedly had Byzantine erotica. This is the thing that makes your theory compelling.
However, the book takes a pretty hard-line stance on addiction being an inherited behavior, which I think is some evidence that Hal is JOI’s legitimate son, as the attache is described as abstaining from alcohol (yes I know you can still be an alcoholic without actually drinking). And I thought that when Hal’s physical description was given, he was described as resembling JOI as well.
But I’m also kinda annoyed that this is my 4th read and it literally never occurred to me that the attache could be his father.
I’d say the substance addictions portrayed in the book develop mainly as learned behaviors, with Jim of course getting his from the powerful example set by his own father. Hal, Don Gately, and Joelle, on the other hand, develop their specific addictions by being exposed to them via non-familial acquaintances at a crucial time when they needed something. This proclivity for addiction seems pretty universal unless there’s something specific like the devout Sufism of the medical attache to take its place or prevent it, which of course Hal does not have. Hal appears to be more addicted to the secrecy than the pharmacological effect of the marijuana anyway, which could well be something he learned from Avril.
And though somewhat physically similar, Hal is never described as “the same as” any of JOI’s traits, unlike Orin, who gets directly compared to both Jim and Avril. Hal’s physical description also reads noticeably more ethnic than JOI’s when it should only be half as much, which only makes sense if JOI is one quarter Pima Indian, and Hal is one quarter Near Eastern Arabic. I would say the specific wording used to describe Hal is also more in line with Near Eastern than Pima Indian. And while Hal is tall at 183.6 cm in stocking feet, he’s quite a bit shorter than Avril, 197 cm in flats, who herself only comes up to JOI’s ear lobes. It would seem he’d need one parent to be shorter than both of them if he is, however the medical attache’s height is unknown.
A lot of this is subjective anyway of course, and there’s nothing to definitively prove anything. There sure is a lot to consider though.
And then! From Infinite Summer forum archives: The Consummation of the Levirates.